The Afghan insurgency has intensified, and the Pentagon says U.S. deployment in March and April of 3,200 Marines will greatly enhance NATO’s ability to deal with any spring offensive. The U.S. move comes after months of inaction by other NATO members to address a shortfall of more than 7,000 troops in the battle plan for Afghanistan.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently criticized NATO’s ability to fight an insurgency in Afghanistan, saying that many European forces are trained not for counter-insurgency but for Cold War-type combat. International troops deployed in the south include some of Washington’s staunchest allies – Britain, Canada, and The Netherlands. Deeply offended, the Dutch government summoned the American Ambassador to The Hague to explain Secretary Gates’ comments.The Secretary has subsequently praised NATO allies serving in Afghanistan, saying that they are playing a significant role there.
The Times Kabul correspondent Nick Meo, who has been in Afghanistan off and on for the past 6 years, told Judith Latham, host of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, that there are “divisions of opinion” within NATO about individual contributions to the war effort. While Britain, Canada, and The Netherlands have contributed “large numbers of troops” and suffered “large numbers of casualties” in the south, other NATO countries have not sent many soldiers. Nick Meo explains that it is “not really clear how much of the country the Taliban controls,” but he describes the insurgency as “very violent” and the scale of fighting as “very intense,” especially around Qandahar and Helmand province.
Afghan journalist, historian, and former BBC broadcaster Nabi Misdaq agrees that the situation in the south is troubling. But he thinks Afghanistan’s problems were exacerbated when Washington’s attention was diverted from Afghanistan to Iraq, leaving the Afghan countryside in the hands of warlords. He stresses that the government in Kabul has very little control over the rest of the country and that the warlords and drug lords are “fighting one another.”
Afghanistan had grabbed the headlines earlier this week when a luxury hotel in Kabul, frequented by foreigners, was targeted in a suicide attack and the Taliban claimed responsibility. It was the deadliest direct attack on a Kabul hotel since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Nick Meo says the attack on foreign civilians “echoes” attacks on Baghdad and Iraq and the tactics of insurgents there. He suggests that it also raises the “prospect of perhaps a rather frightening new chapter in the Taliban insurgency.
Nonetheless, Roy Gutman, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and foreign editor for the McClatchy newspapers, says he thinks the addition of 3,200 U.S. troops could make a difference. After 9/11, he reminds, there was a “moment there when, if the United States had just stuck to the Afghan front … and drawn upon NATO, which was offering its support,” it would have been possible to have had a greater impact on the country.
The journalists agree that the United States and other NATO countries will need to stay in Afghanistan for the long haul. They argue that if terrorism, regional violence, political instability, and opium poppy production are to be addressed, there is no other way.
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